July 21, 2021

My Journey With My Mental Health and How I Deal, Part Two: Diet

In her second piece for From the Lived Experience our contributing writer discusses the impact of diet, which affects our brain and mental health just as it does our physical health–as JKBF has outlined here

By Guest Contributor, Christine Bushrow

I grew up eating predominantly healthy, comforting, home-cooked meals with my family. My mom’s Italian heritage influenced most of the meals she cooked; there was plenty of lasagna, ravioli, spaghetti, and “stuffed shells.” She’d also make delicious, creamy casseroles and frittatas. Despite being a vegetarian for most of her life, she cooked all kinds of meat for us and let us decide whether we wanted to partake or not. She never tried to influence our decision based on her preference.

My dad is also an excellent cook, but most of my memories growing up of his cooking revolved around the grill. He’s the reigning “grill master” and is rightfully proud. Not a single summer weekend passed without grilling cheeseburgers, steaks, and hotdogs on the back deck, with a side of watermelon, chips, and salad.

Another fun tradition I remember fondly is ordering pizza every Friday night and eating in the living room – it was a huge deal to eat away from the kitchen table! – while watching a movie as a family.

When I went away to college, I pretty much ate whatever I pleased, whenever I pleased. I had a lot of fun destroying my health with dorm cafeteria food, 7-11 burritos, frozen Bagel Bites, Hostess cupcakes, and soda. 

It didn’t get much better when I returned from college and moved into my first “adult” apartment. I had a roommate, but we lived parallel lives and didn’t interact much, so I focused on myself at mealtimes. For example, I didn’t see the point in grocery shopping since I didn’t know how to cook for one, so I’d stop by any fast food drive-thru on my lunch breaks and after work each day. 

After a few years of living that way, I was feeling pretty horrible mentally and physically. I had brain fog, daily stomach pain, headaches, and absolutely no energy. Plus, my skin started breaking out badly. All of this, on top of my existing anxiety and depression, felt unbearable. I knew I needed to make a change but had no clue how.

One day while scrolling online, I came across the term “veganism” and was immediately intrigued. A parade of healthy, happy, glowing people flooded my screen as they excitedly explained how veganism had positively changed their lives and their health. I wanted to feel like that, too. 

The changes I made started small. First, I cut out red meat, then all meat, and noticed a massive difference in how I felt. After that, I ate many processed vegetarian foods and slowly learned how to adjust my vegetable portion sizes to be more substantial rather than small side dishes. 

About a year later, I made the ethical connection to animals, cut out eggs and dairy, and began eating more whole foods than processed foods. Not only did my self-esteem improve as my actions matched my morals, but this was also when the most significant shift in my health occurred. My skin cleared up, I felt light on my feet, I had more energy, my seasonal allergies disappeared, and my brain fog slowly cleared. I engaged in more physical activity with this newfound energy, not because I had to, but because it felt great to move my body! My yoga practice intensified, I hiked and kayaked often, and I discovered a new passion: walking.

Christine Bushrow is a passionate freelance mental health writer and mental health advocate. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, spending time with loved ones, practicing yoga, and exploring the outdoors in a constant state of wonder. www.christinebushrow.com